1998 Refused – “the shape of punk to come”

My aim with this blog was to bring attention to lost gems and albums that don’t get the attention or recognition that they deserve. However I have come to the point in the list where I have to put my hands up and say “this album is a stone cold classic that cannot be ignored and to do so would be a mistake”. So, for this blog I am going to be covering what is in my opinion one of the most important albums to be released in my lifetime. Welcome to 1998 and “the shape of punk to come” by the Swedish hardcore band Refused.
It’s really hard to adequately describe how revolutionary the sound of this album is because truth betold consciously or not, bands have been ripping this sound off for nearly twenty years now. Refused started out as a really good political hardcore band and their entire back catalogue is really worth a spin, but then they got to album number three and the leap was astronomical. To say “shape of punk to come” is a blend of punk rock and hardcore doesn’t quite do it justice. It’s like saying coffee is a hot drink, technically accurate but it’s missing a lot of detail. “Shape of punk to come” is more than that blend. There’s punk, hardcore, electronica, jazz, dance, folk, country and more. It’s a glorious blend of so many different elements that just seems to meld into one amazing whole.  

The planning is meticulous. There isn’t a moment on this album, a single beat that doesn’t feel verydeliberate and very thought out. This needs to be listened to as a solid body of work from beginning to end. To do anything less is doing it a disservice and you wouldn’t get even a glimmer of the impact that this album can have. As a single movement you hear the pulse of the album and its subtleties.

The musicianship on this album is out of this world. This is five guys at the top of their game playing like their lives depended on it. However no one steps out as above the band. They are a tight, cohesive unit right the way through. Even the vocalist DennisLyxzen who is one of the best frontmen to ever pick up a mic, doesn’t make it his show. This is about Refused as a whole creating a very special moment in time.  

As far as songs go I could write an individual post on each track and even then I don’t think I could begin to do them justice. There are so many different elements to each track and different turns of pace. Each track reaches through your ears and clamps itself to your brain and your spine and never lets go. 

I really urge everyone who hasn’t given this album a go to do so. Settle down, get a large drink, put on some headphones and spend so time in this album’s company. I assure you it will be time very well spent.

PRB

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1997 Hot Water Music – forever and counting

I realised last week that for a blog called punk rock Buddhist I have reviewed very little punk music for this 30 week challenge. So to rectify this situation let me introduce one of the best punk bands to ever do it. This week we have Hot Water Music and their second album “forever and counting”.
Let me start by saying that if you are a fan of modern punk you might struggle with the sound of this album. It’s awesome but if you are looking for a production budget, there isn’t one. This album is as raw as you can get. What you can get away with now with little money is light years away from what you could manage in 1997. I’m sounding like I’m having a go but I’m really not, this is a gem of an album.

From the opening few seconds this album slams into top gear and doesn’t stop for a second. Audio aside you can’t argue with the quality of the songs on “forever and counting”. The duel vocal attack of Chuck Ragan and Chris Wollard soar above the huge slam of music underneath, giving the whole album a huge layer of emotional depth. Also I need to point out that if scotch whisky and malbro reds had a voice I wouldn’t be at all surprised if they sounded like Chuck Ragan. Gravelly doesn’t even begin to cover it.

The level of musicianship can’t be faulted, considering that these guys where only on their second album. I must also give a huge shout out to the bass player Jason Black. As a middling bassist myself I am envious of his playing on this album. His bass lines fly in and out of the crunching guitar riffs and are a massive part of hot water music’s sound. 

When these guys reformed a few years ago it was fantastic. The album they made was really awesome and they have a new album due out this year. Hopefully they should start to receive even more praise and exposure because I truly believe that they haven’t been given the credit they deserve. In the punk (post hardcore etc if you want to be a pedant) landscape they really are one of the greats and everyone with functioning taste should at least give them a listen.

PRB 🤘🕉

1996 Neurosis – “through silver in blood”

There is a famous quote by the philosopher Friederich Nietzsche “if you gaze for long into an abyss, the abyss gazes also into you”. If this is true then the sound of the staring abyss would be the fifth album by Oakland metal band Neurosis “through silver in blood”.
There are some bands who try and be dark. The black metal genre for example is littered with blokes in corpse paint and inverted crosses, satanism for show. However “through silver in blood” is one of the darkest albums ever recorded because rather than trying to find some external darkness, Neurosis focus entirely on the inside of your own head. 
WARNING: this is not an easy album to listen too. It is not something to dip in and out of. You don’t stick it on in the background and you don’t sing along to it. There isn’t a track on this that could be considered to be a “single”. In fact it’s better to view the 9 tracks of this album as one solitary body of work. As they say long and hard is the road out of hell and at a punishing 70 minutes this album is a commitment. If you commit to it and let this band move around the deepest crawl spaces of your own psyche the rewards are worth it.
So how to describe this band for the uninitiated? Neurosis started as a hardcore punk band then swiftly evolved into what they are now. Slow sludgy metal with sudden flashes of electronic and industrial sounds. It’s like being covered slowly in cold liquid lead, or being at the depth in the ocean where there is no light and the pressure is trying to crush you. It’s brutally heavy, bleak in its subject matter and ruthless in its delivery.
The trade off is the musicianship. This band are stunning. Rather than being individual musicians the band are one crushing unit. It’s not that every member doesn’t have a voice, far from it. They are just so tight that it’s almost like telepathy. While the band charge on the two guitarists/vocalists Scott Kelly and Steve Von Till trade off gut wrenching screams that add a human element to the destructive force that Neurosis are. The pacing is also amazing. There are a few small almost ambient passages that allow you to briefly surface for air before plunging straight back in. These little breaks are much needed but also gives so much weight to the heaviness when it drops back in.
Even if I have put you off this band I actively encourage you to try them. Every album is a classic and they have stuck to their guns throughout their career, following the path that means most artistically to them. They are one of the best bands not just in metal but in music. They are explorers of the darker parts of the human soul and for that they should be revered as one of the few one off bands to ever play.

PRB 🤘🕉

1995 Down -“NOLA”

This week’s album apart from being an all time classic raises a difficult ethical question. Does an artist’s actions now affect how their previous work is viewed? In other words after last year can we listen to anything By Phillip Anselmo in the same way?
For those who don’t know this band just checking out the lineup will give you a clue as to what they sound like. They are made up of Phillip Anselmo on vocals (Pantera), Kirk Windstein (Crowbar) and Pepper Keenan (Corrosion of conformity) on guitars, Todd Strange (Crowbar) on bass and Jimmy Bower (eyehategod) on drums. In other words the royalty of Louisiana metal and sludge bands. They also have an advantage over most “super groups”. They really do live up to expectations. Each one brings a core element from their own band. The brutal head on charge of pantera, the guitar clout of crowbar, the melody of C.O.C and the dirt under the fingernails grime of eyehategod. Not only that but they blend seamlessly together to create a sound that’s greater than the sum of it’s parts. Apparently when they first got together they would hand out demo tapes (yes tapes) whilst touring in their regular bands and asked if anyone had heard of this underground band called Down, just to see the reaction. 
The reaction was, unsurprisingly huge. There are bands who sound similar but no other band sounds like Down. Equal parts Black sabbath and Skinner, no one can match the combination of classic metal and southern swagger. Kirk and Pepper’s riffs are the key here. Kirk writes guitar riffs that make Tony Iommi jealous and when they ever remake “the creature from the black lagoon” Crowbar will be writing the soundtrack. Pepper was just off the back of C.O.C’s “deliverance” album and if you want to know how to write a southern rock album that’s your blueprint right there. Even though he plays guitar for eyehategod Bower is a powerhouse of a drummer. Every beat is both laser sharp and a little bit sloppy, carrying a rawness with it that adds more depth to the record.
At 13 tracks just under an hour the scope of “NOLA” is astounding. From the opening two hit combo of “Temptations wings” and “lifer”, to the drug raged “hail to the leaf” and the tripped out “jail” all points are covered. Then we get to “bury me in smoke”. If someone is ever mad enough to compile the best rock guitar songs ever, then this track has to be in the top ten. Like Sabbath at their best it’s both simple as hell yet monstrously complex. A three note riff that batters you into submission then comes back again to repeat it. 
Then we get to Phillip Anselmo. I am going to get static for saying this but I’m not a huge Pantera fan and I feel Anselmo is locked into a pattern with them. Down is a different story altogether. His clean vocals are amazing and the melody he produces is wonderful. Counter to that his scream is a stamp of authority, a trademark war cry that is unmatched by anyone before or since. There are few vocalists who could go up against George “corpsegrinder” Fisher from cannibal corpse and Chris Cornell from Soundgarden in the same song but Anselmo makes it look ridiculously easy. 
Then last year onstage at a benefit gig Anselmo did “that” salute and said “white power”. As well as being a horrendous thing to do, for many people (myself included) it left a horrible taste in the mouth. Following on from Down I followed all of Anselmo’s projects with interest. He was/is a genuine giant of the scene and this left many of us wondering what to do. He has apologised but it was hell of a knock to a genre of music that is all ready viewed as knuckle dragging and non inclusive. I can’t abide racism and it has left me wondering where I stand as a fan of this album.
For myself I am undecided but I cannot deny my love for this album. If you haven’t heard it at least play it once because it is hell of an album and worth your time to start with. It’s then up to yourself how you feel afterwards.

PRB

1994 Therapy – Troublegum

I do feel a bit sorry for whoever was running A&M records in 1994. It must have been very strange listening to the latest album by Northern Irish band Therapy for the first time. It must have been a very “what the hell do I do with this?” moment. 14 tracks that blend punk rock and metal soaked in pop sensibilities. However you want to look at it “troublegum” is just plain weird.Therapy are a bit of an anomaly in British rock/alternative music. I struggle to think of any band that manages to write the kind of music that they do. Also the fact that they have never split up, kept a fairly constant lineup and still to this day produce some of the best music to come out of the UK. 

“Troublegum” is the band’s most successful and has the biggest pop vibe (not meaning to do it any disservice). Pop might even be the wrong word. The track “screamager” is a great example. It’s got energy and melody and you find yourself singing along. Then you stop and think about what you are actually singing and feel a little bit ashamed of yourself. For all it’s bounce and melody “Troublegum” is a dark, dark album. When you get past Andy Cairns mountain sized choruses and listen to the lyrics you realise how dark it actually is. 

“Troublegum” is a very insidious album that creeps up on you and before you know it it’s lodged deep inside your brain. Play it through once and I can safely say that you will know it well enough to sing along to by the next play. The thing that I find still find surprising is that even after all that it’s still heavy. The sonic clout of songs like “trigger inside” is mind blowing. My personal favourite is “stop it you’re killing me”, an absolute banger of a track. If you hear the opening line “the world is fucked and so am I” and not smile then there is something wrong with you. The album ends with the most disturbing rendition of “you are my sunshine” that is genuinely unsettling and the perfect way to pull the rug out from under the listeners.

I cannot recommend this album enough and if you do fall in love with it then for god sake check out their back catalogue as you will be letting yourself in for a seriously wonderful time 

PRB 🤘🕉

1993 The Wildhearts – “Earth vs the Wildhearts”

When you look at the list of great British rock bands there are those who don’t get the attention they deserve. The Wildhearts are sadly one of them. They are/were one of the underrated greats in rock music. Formed in 1989 in Newcastle upon Tyne, the Wildhearts could and would out drink and outplay anyone anywhere. They played harder then most of their contemporaries, but also had an obscene amount of melody. Released in 1993 “earth vs.” Showed a band on the top of their game and was voted Kerrang’s album of the year. Even more impressively it was the Wildhearts debut.
The thing for me that makes “Earth vs.” stand out from the rest is the songwriting. Straight away chief songwriter and frontman Ginger Wildheart stood out as world class and to this day is constantly writing amazing tracks. He has an amazing ability with melody and finds hooks that go straight through your ears and into your consciousness. Even though it is a debut album the eclecticism is amazing. The album jumps from heavy metal to 1940’s Americana and punk rock. A friend once described them as the Rammones using Metallica’s gear to play Beatles songs and that is fairly accurate. From their heartfelt tribute to London (“greetings from shitsville”) to relationship troubles (“my baby is a headfuck”) all the tracks are played with a wry smile and a daft amount of volume.

If you’re unfamiliar with them I really recommend giving them a go and if they reform and are playing near you then do yourself a solid and go and see them. On record they are great, but live they are something else entirely. This is music to drink and sing along too, loudly and with no shame. This is British rock at it’s best!

PRB 🤘🕉

1992 Rage against the machine – “Rage against the machine”

There are some albums that go beyond music. Everyone has one. The album that attaches itself to your DNA and shapes you. That album for me is the self titled debut by Los Angeles Rage against the machine. This album shaped my music tastes, my politics, my personality. After the first listen I knew that it was going to be a defining marker for me and I have played this album probably more times than most other albums put together. I know every guitar line, every drum beat, every phrase. I know this album like I know my own skin and because of this I’ve found a bit of a problem. How do I write about this album?
I was into heavy music for a few years before I was introduced to Rage. I was an unashamed nu metal kid so the idea of combining rap and metal wasn’t an alien concept. It was my Dad of all people who one day presented me with the album and said something like “I found this is a record shop and thought you might like it”. If I remember correctly I sat in front of my little HiFi system and didn’t move for an hour. I had heard nothing like it before. This was hard hitting both sonically and emotionally. It was full of funk but at the same time heavy as hell. It also had a guy who could really rap, unlike most of what nu metal was trying to do. Before Rage I had never heard politics in music but they didn’t change my political leanings, just gave it a voice.

I could go on about this band and this album for months so instead I’m just going to focus on three elements that make them great.

One: The musicians. Whatever style they chose to play, the band were always tight as hell. Each one of them are world class musicians. Tom Morello is a genius guitarist. He is close to Hendrix with his ability to make his guitar talk. The sounds he produces are just astonishing. Brad Wilks is the pulse of the band. As a drummer he is one of the best. Tim Commerford is the reason that I picked up the bass and is one of the most full on players you will ever find. Then there is Zack De la Rocha. The conviction in his voice and the power in his delivery is what makes Rage the band that they are. No one sounds like Zack. Even after keeping a low profile for a while, his work with groups like Run the Jewels show he’s still got it.

Two: conviction. One of the things that I love about Rage is that there is no subtext. They say what they mean and they back it up. From leading protests to public demonstrations (standing naked in front of a festival audience is pretty public) they stood by their words. 

Three: Power. At their peak Rage against the machine could go toe to toe with anyone. In the live environment they were stunning. They had no stage show. No effects. No props. Just four guys on stage killing it. I got into the band a few years after they spilt and waited a ridiculous amount of time to see them live. They levelled Donington park that night and have gone down as one of my all time favourite gigs.

I can’t go on much longer but I will sign off by saying if you have not listened to this band then please do. Every album is a classic but I will always shout out for one of the greatest debut albums ever recorded 

PRB 🤘🕉

1991 Soundgarden “badmotorfinger”

If you are looking for an exceptional year for music then 1991 has to be up for consideration. This is the year that saw the release of “ten” by pearl jam, “arise” by sepultura, the black album by Metallica, “bloodsugarsexmagic” by the red hot chilli peppers and one of the biggest albums in the history of rock music, “nevermind” by Nirvana. If that is not a run of stone cold classics then I don’t know what is! However after horrible recent events there is really only one choice for my album of 1991. “Badmotorfinger” by Soundgarden has to be viewed as one of the best rock albums of the 90’s, if not of all time.
If you look at the grunge movement as a whole, in a scene of freaks and oddballs Soundgarden stand out as unique.Nirvana had massive choruses, Alice in chains had a dark streak and Pearl jam had a classic rock element. Soundgarden had all of it but in a really odd way. There is something strangely disjointed about them. They are a hardcore punk band playing black sabbath style guitar riffs. It shouldn’t work but it really does.

I don’t know why but the albums from this period sound massive and “badmotorfinger” is no exception. I think that a large part of this is down to Terry Date. His production job on this album is almost textbook. He makes every individual element of the band standout without any one aspect drowning out the others. I don’t know how he makes everything sound both monstrously lumbering and heavy and yet tight as hell. Played correctly through headphones, this album can shake the fillings from your teeth and is utterly glorious for it.

Better writers than myself could fill book after book about the individual musicians in soundgarden so I will try and keep this as brief as I can. Firstly Kim Thayil is a massively underrated guitar player. He gets some really strange sounds to come out of his guitar over the top of those bone snapping riffs. A weird sorcerer of a musician mixing mad scientist inventiveness with straight up sabbath worship. Ben Shepherd on bass not only fills out the low end but brings a frantic energy to the album. This was his first album with the band and you can feel the enthusiasm and confidence he brings. Matt Cameron is a machine of a drummer and just makes the whole thing sound effortless. Then front and centre is Chris Cornell. I believe you would have to go a very long way to find a vocalist to even come close to the standard of his performance on “badmotorfinger”. Soundgarden have that classic rock vibe because with a voice like Cornell’s it’s unavoidable. It’s huge. It’s stadium filling and earth shaking. I’ve described it before as a voice you can get lost in. It picks you up and pushes all the pressure points in your soul. You would have to be made of stone not to feel the hairs on the back of your neck stand up when Cornell is belting out “rusty cage”. His passing is a genuine loss to music.

All this however wouldn’t have meant a huge amount if the album wasn’t jammed with stunning songs. “Outshined”, “Jesus Christ pose”, “room a thousand years wide”, every single track on “badmotorfinger” is a heavyweight. This was their third album and it feels to me that something just clicked for soundgarden when they were writing this. A shade under an hour in length and it feels like no time at all. It is a lean, strong brawler of an album. Nothing is wasted and every blow counts. It doesn’t feel it’s age like some of the albums from the grunge era. That’s because there is no trickery, no gimmicks. Just one of the greatest bands to ever do it just playing awesome songs.

PRB 🤘🕉

1990 Slayer – “Seasons in the abyss”

Sooner or later Slayer had to make it onto this list. Why? Because they’re Slayer that’s why. The undisputed kings of the darker side of thrash metal. Many people would vote for “Reign in blood” as their greatest album and I am in no way disparaging that album. It is an etched in stone classic. However to me their 5th album “seasons in the abyss” is the jewel in the crown. 
The big difference for me between “reigning blood” and “seasons in the abyss” is the slight let up in pace. Not much but it changes the dynamics of the band. “Reign in blood” is a frenzied attack in an alleyway. “Seasons” is a well controlled punishment beating. The results are the same, but seasons is much more brutal for it. This album delivers blow after blow and doesn’t let up at all. 

The confidence emanating from this band is both palpable and much deserved. Just look at the track listing. “War ensemble”, “blood red”, “spirit in black” and these OPEN the album. By any standard that’s just ridiculous. A majority of these songs are still a mainstay in the band’s live set and finishing with a song of the quality of the title track shows you the calibre of the album.

“Seasons” also includes my all time favourite Slayer track. Inspired by serial killer Ed Gein “dead skin mask” is everything that makes Slayer a phenomenal band distilled into 5:20. If anyone asked me what Slayer sounded like, this is what I would play them. Haunting atmosphere, questionable lyrics, drum fills that kick you off you feet and guitar riffs that ironically will take you face off. 

This is the last album for a long time with the original lineup. These are four musicians at the top of their game and their isn’t a note out of place or a beat missed. I think that this album cemented Slayer as one of the all time greats and this lineup as untouchable. 

Chris Cornell 

I have no clue how to write this but feel that I need to. This is off the cuff and not planned in any way but I need to write about the death of Chris Cornell.

Earlier on this morning my wife was on Facebook and shouted “Jesus, Chris Cornell is dead”. I was stunned and for a while thought it might be a hoax, but as more news appeared then it became more real. At the time of writing this the cause of death has not been confirmed and to be honest that’s not important. The fact that he is dead at 52 is tragic enough. 

I found Chris Cornell in possibly the most backwards way going. As a kid I was a massive rage against the machine fan so I was introduced to him by Audioslave. This was incredible to me. This was rage fronted by Robert Plant. The collision of these two worlds really was a massive discovery for me and I decided to track down more of this amazing voice. So, from there I went back to soundgarden and temple of the dog.

The best thing I can say about his voice is you could drop it into any band and it would fit. His voice was so powerful and versatile but at the same time so uniquely his own. There was fragility, soulfulness and a rawness in his singing but when he needed it there was huge range and strength.

I played “say hello 2 heaven” by temple of the dog today with a more heavy heart. Sadly fitting I listened again to a voice that you could drown in and really felt the loss of a truly amazing artist 

PRB 🕉❤️